by Stuart Ridgway, Original Music for Film and Television

I originally published this article in Electronic Musician magazine in November of 2008.

No matter how talented you are, the key to working steadily in the music field is to develop a stellar reputation among those who can either give you jobs or recommend you for them. Whether you’re a studio owner, a film and TV composer, a gigging artist, or a session player, the process of turning yourself into a marketable commodity requires that you network actively and market yourself consistently.

Ideas don’t matter?…

You need to develop a strong network of peers who want to work with you and who want you to succeed. There are three basic rules to follow: be smart when looking for new clients, nurture your relationships, and become a dependable professional.

Client Hunting

First, you should get out of the studio or practice room and actively search for those people who might need your services; instead of trying to bring the clients to you, go to them. Spend time at places where prospective clients hang out. If you own a studio, check out the open mics in your area. A great way to build your chops and your client base is to record solo musicians.

Go to a convention for bands or join an association of songwriters. The people who are involved in such groups are probably actively developing their careers and might need your recording services. If you write music for film, consider joining an organization for film producers. The key is to think about who might potentially hire you, and then approach them where they congregate.

Take advantage of all of the benefits that such organizations offer. They may have a listserv (an email discussion group) where members chat about the business. Perhaps they hold seminars and workshops such as the Taxi Road Rally where members get together for hours or days at a time. These are the places you want to be because they are where you can find new clients.

When you meet people at these gatherings, ask them about what they do and what kind of projects they have coming up. Most people enjoy talking about themselves. Listen and find out what they need — both immediately and in the long term. If you’re speaking with a club owner, find out how far in advance he or she books their bands. If you’re talking to a singer-songwriter, ask about his or her latest CD release. Exchange business cards and use the back of the card to jot notes such as where you met and what you discussed. You can transfer that information to your database later.

Leads can come from anyone at any time, including fellow musicians, club owners, studio owners, engineers, roadies, managers, music producers, and video producers. Yesterday’s bass player might be today’s band manager — and your next client. Are they looking to record in a studio anytime soon?

The roadie who was always videotaping everybody’s shows could be producing a new TV show. Does he need original music? The guitarist in your friend’s band is also a producer at a music production company. Perhaps he can give you some session or composing work. Remember that most music work comes from direct recommendations.

Tracking and Planning

When you need a singer for a project, you hire someone you like working with and who you trust to get the job done. The same goes for your prospective clients. They hire musicians and composers with whom they want to work. You need to make them feel that way about you too, but doing so takes time, diligence, and organization.

If you have five potential clients, it’s easy to keep track of how well you’ve been keeping in touch. If you have 500, it becomes a lot more difficult. Invest in database software. It should have, at minimum, fields for your client’s name, contact information, and substantial notes. It should also allow you to create templates for letters, envelopes, and mailing labels.

Enter the details of your client communications in your database and have a plan for following up. Use the information that you jotted on the back of those business cards to start filling in the notes section. What did you talk about when you met? Is he or she working on a new project? If so, how imminent is it? Did you mention that you’re going to send them your latest demo? Put everything down in your database; the potential client might not remember everything you discussed but will be impressed if you do. Supplement your notes with pertinent data about the client that you can find online.

If you’re sending a demo, you can use the database program to create your letter, the label for your CD, and the mailing label. Set up these layouts once, and they will make your life much easier when you need to send out 100 more.

Tactful Persistence

Initial contact is one thing; keeping in contact without driving a prospective client crazy is another. Email is cheap, easy, and unobtrusive. Within a week of meeting a work contact, send a follow-up email. Has he or she started looking for recording studios? Did the demo you sent arrive? Has a decision been made about whether your band can audition? Include news about your latest projects in your emails, because that shows you’re working. Keep it short and sweet, and then sign the email with a signature line that contains your URL and phone number.

Be constructive with phone calls. Telephone a client (or potential client) if contact has waned for a while or if you know there is an imminent project. When you speak on the phone, take cues from the person’s tone of voice. If he or she sounds rushed, ask if there’s a better time to call back. If you’re told that a decision on who to hire for the job will soon be made, find out what it would take for you to be chosen. If no decision will be made for a while, find out when one is expected. If you’re getting the vibe that there is no interest in your services, say thank you and move on. Don’t waste time pursuing dead ends.

Building Trust

As you work on one project, keep in mind that you are also “interviewing” for the next one. Don’t be late, don’t act overly familiar, and don’t dress or act like a slob. You can look cool, but your demeanor should always be professional.

Make sure to meet any and all deadlines. Ask leading questions to ascertain that you’re delivering what your client needs. Focus on the current project but also keep your ears open for other possible projects. A film producer might need sound design in addition to the score you’re writing. Or a producer that you’re playing a session for might have another project that could use your talents.

Develop relationships with your competitors. If they have a gig they can’t fulfill, they might recommend you. Clubs and festivals often have multiple bands on one date. Split the contact information with another band in your genre, and you can hit twice as many festivals. Better yet, find a band from another city in which you want to tour. Open up for each other in your respective hometowns. If you have a small studio but some great mics, find a larger studio that can refer smaller clients to you in exchange for letting them borrow your mics.

Finally, get feedback from your clients. That can be as simple as asking how the project went. Find out how well you fulfilled their needs and what you could do better in the future. Listen to such feedback and act thankful for the comments, even if you disagree. If possible, get a testimonial from a satisfied client to put on your Web site and ask if you can use that person as a reference.

Reputation is Key

Developing and nurturing relationships is a long-term process. The time you invest in them is as valuable as the time you spend practicing, writing, or learning to use your studio gear. By carefully developing your rapport with your peers, your name will be at the top of the list when a job becomes available.

Your clients will remember how you treat them. If they trust you and know you’ll provide what they need, you’ll get the gig.

Stuart Ridgway is the owner of Pyramid Digital Productions, Inc., which is located outside of Washington, D.C. For more information, visit the Pyramid Digital Productions website.

Client Development Tips

Act and look professional at all times. Never miss a deadline.

Ask for, and learn from, client feedback.

Develop a database system to track your contacts. Enter contact information and details of any interactions you’ve had.

Exchange business cards with as many potential clients as possible. Write down pertinent information about your conversations on the back of their cards.

Follow up after meeting with a potential client by sending them an email within the week.

Look for potential clients by frequenting the places they congregate: groups, organizations, open mics, and so on.

Treat your musical peers well; today’s colleague could be tomorrow’s client.

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